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Violent crimes: When is there a right to defend yourself?

When you went out for a party, you didn't think you'd end up facing criminal charges. However, while you were having a good time, another person got too rowdy and began to attack you. You didn't do anything to provoke the act, but as a reaction, you stabbed the individual with your dinner knife.

You felt the reaction was justified, because you feared you'd be badly hurt if the individual continued to hit you. You're facing accusations of violent behavior. Will the court agree? Here are a few things that could justify self-defense.

1. You feared for your life

The first reason that a court may agree that you should have acted out in violence is that you feared for your life. To prove this, you should provide documentation of threats, witness statements of problems between you and the accused attacker or other information that can explain why you were so scared that you had to react with violence.

2. You feared for another person's life

Fearing for another person's life is sometimes a good reason for self-defense as well. For example, if you have a child who is being attacked by another child's parent, you would be well within your rights to attack that parent to get him or her to leave your child alone.

3. You reacted to protect yourself

Similarly to fighting off someone hurting your child or another party, you can react in a way that will protect yourself, too. The catch is that your reaction should be of an acceptable level for the threat. For instance, if someone is holding a gun to your head, shooting him or her would be a reasonable reaction. However, shooting someone who kicked you would likely not be reasonable unless you could show that the individual was intent on killing you through physical force.

4. You acted first based on a real threat of harm

There are times when people may strike first and then try to claim self-defense. Normally, the court wants to see that the individual had a reason to react in the way he or she did. Fortunately, even if you struck first, if you can show that the other party was chasing you or intended to hurt you, you'll have a good reason to show why you reacted in the way you did. It's not acceptable to lash out if you aren't in harm's way, but a real fear of physical harm coming to you makes it more likely for your actions to be accepted by the courts.

These are a few reasons a court might agree that self-defense was your only option and that you were a victim, not a perpetrator of violence.

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Violent crimes: When is there a right to defend yourself? | Jim Ryan & Associates